When my children were toddlers, college seemed like a far away fairy tale that would magically appear one day. Now that my oldest is a freshman in high school, those days are much closer. The concerns about how to prepare them for college and how to pay for college are front and center with less than four years before he is out on his own. But most of all, how do we get our kids into the college of their dreams and can we afford it.
Tips and Resources to begin your college journey:
- It’s never too early to begin
The sooner you begin, the more time you have to save and expose your children to a variety of interests. Most people can hardly believe that we started our children in piano at age 4 years old and my daughter in dance at just 2 ½. Starting early helps you find out what they enjoy and become an “expert” by the time they are in high school. Expose them to a wide array of interests in the arts, academic and sports through enrichment programs and then narrow down to their three favorites by middle school.
- Start Saving early
Definitely bring your financial planner in early to discuss options. There are a variety of savings options including 529 plans and the Florida Prepaid program. Both allow you to start right when the child is born. I know this sounds crazy, but imagine a small amount going into savings each month for many years over large amounts in just the last few years. We have had a Florida Prepaid account set up for each of our kids for as long as I can remember.
According to Florida Prepaid, right now families have the opportunity to purchase a 4-Year Florida University Plan without any change in Plan coverage for as low as $173 a month or a 2 + 2 Florida Plan for as low as $136 a month. These prices reflect up to a 50 percent decrease from last year.
For the first time ever, the Board will also offer a new 1-Year Florida University Plan which allows families to purchase up to four years at a state university in one year increments as their budgets afford them. The 1-Year Florida University Plan starts as low as $43 per month.
In celebration of the historic price reductions and launch of the new 1-Year Florida University Plan, application fees will be waived for all Prepaid Plans purchased through Dec. 31, 2014. Looking for a great holiday gift for your child that will keep on giving? This is definitely one to consider!
There are many scholarships available for academics, sports, etc. In Florida, the Bright Futures scholarships are also available for students that meet certain GPA levels and community service hours. Learn more at http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/ssfad/bf/
Scholarships are competitive and not guaranteed. It is like winning a lottery, but with requirements and an application. This is where your high school student gets involved in searching for scholarship opportunities and completing the forms.
- Getting prepared for college
As I am now learning with my kids, middle school gets kids ready for high school and high school should get them ready for college. Time management, getting proper sleep, and eating healthy are all important for a growing teen and effective studying. We try to instill our family values of hard work and healthy lifestyle hoping that some of it will translate when they head off to college.
There are many adjustments and the transition years are the most challenging. Getting them through those first six months successfully makes a big difference in their confidence and sets a positive trajectory for future success.
- How to get your child into the college of their dreams
Let’s ignore the potential financial implications of a “dream” college like my son’s aspirations to attend MIT. Does your child even have a chance to get into MIT or another super competitive college? Surprisingly, many Florida universities are very competitive and hard to get into also.
Grades and standardized test scores are critical measurements that colleges will look at to compare students. The advice I keep seeing is to have your child take the most challenging classes available at their school and succeed in them. Not every class has to be an AP class, but getting A’s in AP classes and passing the test makes a difference.
Being well rounded is another differentiator. When your child is being compared to other students on scores, it is beneficial to also have exceled in other areas. The headmaster at my children’s middle school gave us the advice that kids need to get involved in three different activities in high school and take a leadership role in at least one. I am going to take that a step further and suggest those interests include one artistic/musical, one academic, one community service and one sport. Now, you are thinking that equals four. These are the four areas to select from for the three they choose. We actually gave up soccer this year to be able to maintain his music and math interests.
In addition to participating or leading different activities, they also need to excel. My son has been so fortunate to make All State Chorus in middle school and now in High School. This came about from years of music lessons then voice lessons in middle school combined with hours of preparation for auditions. Fortunately, he enjoys singing and wants to put in the work to get the reward of participating in All State Chorus. Yes, we do have to build our child’s resumes starting in middle school. You cannot wait until high school to figure out their interests and just be part of three clubs. Well, they can but may have a challenge getting accepted into the school of their dreams.
Recently, I read the book What High Schools Don’t Tell You by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross. All of the ideas I had about getting my kids involved early were taken to another level after reading her book. Learn more at her website and definitely get this book when your first child reaches middle school. http://www.educationalstrategy.org
I hope this information is helpful as you start planning your child’s fairytale college experience. They have dreams that with good planning we can help come true. I know, as parents, we want to do everything to help our kids reach for the stars.